Aimee Byrd is very aware of a mistake that would, in this kind of cultural analysis, be a very easy one to make. I am glad she is aware of it because it shows she is actively trying to avoid making it, and that is all to the good. Unfortunately, this awareness has not protected her completely—because it is the very mistake that I believe she is in fact making, as I will try to show in this installment.
Here are her warnings about it:
“we don’t want to read our own social and cultural perspectives into the ancient culture” (Loc. 1622).
“We need to be careful not to impose our own social understandings on spiritual realities but rather to pay attention to what God’s Word teaches us when we use them” (Loc. 1658).
“We can’t take all the things that we know about brotherhood in our culture and apply them to Christ” (Loc. 1659).
Yes, and amen. The short form is that we don’t want to impose our categories on the categories of the ancient world, and we don’t want to impose our categories on the categories of the spiritual world. We don’t want to make category mistakes, in other words. Of course it is ironic that she is falling into the trap that she is warning us about. But I nevertheless intend to interact with all of this because I believe in striking while the irony is hot.
A Key Difference:
How shall we approach this? The first thing we should do is grant one of Aimee’s key premises. After reviewing the scriptural data, she says this:
“I saw language of brotherhood and sisterhood all over the place” (Loc. 1555).
She is exactly right about this. The language of household or family really is a common way that the New Testament describes us—with one caveat, which I will get to shortly. We are the family of God, we are the children of God, and we are brothers and sisters to one another. This emphasis in the New Testament is a pronounced one—“our siblingship is a spiritual reality” (Loc. 1641). Aimee does a good job describing this reality, and faithfully reproduces what the Scriptures teach us about our spiritual kinship in Christ. That part of it is well done.
The problem arises (as I have noted before) when she takes this status of brother/sister that we have in Christ and applies that status to the very different status of friends. In principle, she warns against such a misapplication in the quotations listed above, but then jumbles the categories of ancient friends, modern friends, spiritual brothers and sisters, and biological brothers and sisters. And it really is quite a jumble.
Parallels and Contrasts:
All that said, the biblical use of a brotherhood means something, right? Yes, and that being the case, there are obvious parallels between how I learned to treat my two brothers and sister, and how I am to treat my brothers and sisters in Christ. There are obvious parallels, and Aimee Byrd gets this right, and she understands the importance of it.
But on the point we are discussing—one-on-one friendships between a given brother and sister—the thing that matters in that discussion is the difference between spiritual and physical siblings. And it is a key difference.
For the most part, for the overwhelming majority of people, Christian and non-Christian alike, the taboo against sibling incest has been a remarkably successful one. This is a custom with the force of deep law; it is a profound and deeply-rooted consuetude. A brother comes home from college and if he takes his sister out for a coffee in order to catch up, the prospect of sexual or romantic feelings developing is simply off the table. It isn’t a date. That doesn’t occur to anybody involved. When the brother introduces his sister to someone passing by, the fact that she is his sister immediately removes any questions or concern that such a person might have had. On a related front, nobody thinks it is creepy when the groom dances with his mother at his wedding.
Scripture has rejected brother/sister unions since the time of Moses, which was three and a half millennia ago, and strong cultural taboos have reinforced it ever since. Honoring this restriction is unfortunately not absolutely universal, but when incest does occur it is an indication of profound and disturbing problems that are not limited to the problem of the incest—the tragic increase in problems of this nature is a sign of our broader societal breakdown. So this is an area where I believe Aimee and I would agree.
“Sisters don’t have to worry whether our brothers are misinterpreting our affection for them” (Loc. 17370).
But here’s the thing. There is no such barrier when it comes to a brother/sister relationship in Christ, and the protections provided by such a barrier cannot be whistled up by Aimee simply by publishing a slim book. A biological brother who is spending time with his sister can do so knowing, assuming, presupposing, and understanding that she will never be a potential sexual partner. He knows this down to his ancestors’ bones. There are no circumstances where that will happen. There are no circumstances where it would be okay. That is simply an axiomatic given, and that is where a great deal of the safety lies.
Such is not the case with a spiritual brother/sister relationship. Given the right circumstances, your friend across from you at the coffee shop might one day soon—and lawfully—be your lover. If you are both single, it might be six months from now when the scales fall from your eyes and you begin to pay romantic attention to her. But before that happens, you needed to have known the entire time that it was a possibility. You have a responsibility to know that it is always a standing possibility. That was not off the table the same way it is with your biological sibling.
And suppose the two of you are married to others, and you have the kind of platonic friendship that Aimee is urging, and so what then? Our lives are a mist. Two months from now, both your spouses might be with the Lord, and six months from now you are still having coffee. Now what?
This is simply a basic truth from every responsible gun safety class. Every gun is a loaded gun.
With a biological sibling, almost everyone is freed up, liberated to not think in romantic or sexual categories at all. With a spiritual sister, with a spiritual brother, it is foolhardy not to think in those categories.
Think about it this way. If you are a single Christian man looking for a wife, you are not permitted to consider anyone but the sisters. The one who marries must marry in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). And this means that when it comes to sex, these two different kinds of sisterhood occupy strikingly different places. With the biological sisterhood, a man must never seek a sexual partner there. With the spiritual sisterhood, a man must only seek his sexual partner there.
Now shouldn’t a fact like this be something that we keep in mind? As in, all the time? Might it not affect things?
So I would like to drive the point home. Every gun is a loaded gun.
In terms of what we are discussing, I want to exclude the obvious situations that are sexually off the table—biological kinship, discussed above, or the friendship that grows up between a college student and his 89-year-old landlady. So okay, I will work with you on this. I am not trying to establish a talmudic approach to every possible male/female relationship. I am simply calling for a bit of preventative prudence.
And in doing this, I want to modify (slightly) the When Harry Met Sally law. Billy Crystal’s character had weaponized friendship. When he befriended a woman he was using that as part of his sexual approach to her. There were various circumstances he would have to take into account, but the goal was, sooner or later, to get her into bed with him. Now if the man is a believer, this picture changes drastically—but not in the way that Aimee thinks. There is an additional circumstance that must be taken into account—and it is a big one.
When a man and a woman are in a one-on-one friendship, there is always, of necessity, a sexual undercurrent to it. A man who is singling out a woman is doing one of two things—whether he admits it to himself or not. Either he is trying to figure out how to get her into bed unlawfully, on the one hand, or he is trying to figure out how to do it lawfully. For a believer, the law of God is sweeter than honey. It matters to him, and so it is one of the central things he must take into account. It is part of the framework of his life. It matters to him. He is a believer, so when he is showing interest in this woman, he is assuming that “all that” would have to occur in a way that would be under God’s blessing.
This remains an assumption even when Christian men give way to foolish and illicit daydreaming—meaning that in their zeal to honor God’s law, they wind up dishonoring it even more grotesquely. A pagan man can just daydream about other women, and if his wife asks about it, he can just lie. He was daydreaming about breaking the seventh and ninth commandments, and then he compounds it by breaking the eighth. The Christian can’t feel good about such overtly adulterous daydreaming so he imagines himself (tragically, of course) as a widower, free to pursue this other woman. So in his scrupulous and Pharisaical daydreaming, he actually winds up violating the sixth commandment also—wishing his wife dead, so that his sex dreams can be virtuous.
And it is not as though women are bulletproof. A woman in such a relationship is also doing one of two things, whether she admits it to herself or not. If a married man and a married woman have a platonic friendship, meaning that everyone behaves, and they are drawn even closer during their respective spouses’ shared battle with cancer, what happens when both spouses die? What happens to the woman when she discovers that when her friend said that they were simply friends, and that there was nothing else to it of any other nature, that he really meant it? Would she feel, to any extent, on any level, disappointed and rejected? If she would—and she would—then she also should be welcomed to the ranks of those who spend a great deal of energy kidding themselves.
Friends Don’t Lie to Each Other:
It is not as though Aimee assumes that such friendships are a temptation-free zone. She really doesn’t.
“When instead we regard one another as temptations, as means merely of gratifying sexual desires, or as threats to our image, and we do not regard one another honorably as brothers and sisters, we are not loving deeply” (Loc. 1715).
“And sometimes there is a real battle going on as we fight through temptations and work them out before the Lord” (Loc. 1724).
Now let’s say that a man and a woman are friends in an Aimee-approved manner. They have been friends in this way for three years. Let us also say that in the course of their friendship, a “real battle” arises, as Aimee acknowledges it might. Feelings develop, or lusts arise, or a tangled combination.
Friends don’t lie to each other, right? Should they talk about it? Every prudential impulse that I have is screaming “no, no, no!!” and I hardly ever use exclamation points. If they talk about it, they are not being friends, and if they cannot talk about it, then it shows that they never were.
Speaking of Lying . . .
One of the central things that has happened as a result of egalitarian feminism becoming a default assumption throughout our culture is that it has become commonplace—especially on sexually-related matters—to lie to women. Women are lied to all the time now. Women lie to women, dress manufacturers lie to women, roommates lie to women, advertisers lie to women, husbands lie to women, guy friends lie to women, and pastors in the pulpit lie to women. And why does this happen? Because the women demand it, but that is a subject for another post.
Postscript on the Exegetical Skinny Branches:
One final issue concerns the generic use of brothers in Scripture. Through this book, Aimee uses an off-the-beaten-path translation—the Christian Standard Bible. And she does so for a reason.
“Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters . . .” (1 Cor. 10:1 CSB), or “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters . . .” (1 Thess. 4:13 CSB). (Loc. 1701).
This is something she touched on earlier in the book, but her selection of a translation here is gliding over a big problem for her. In both these passages, the KJV, the NKJV, the ESV, and the NASB all have the simple brothers or brethren. That is because the spiritual brotherhood, as it is assumed in places like this, does not expressly name the sisters. Now I grant that they are included, but the generic use of brothers is hardly an adequate basis for an argument that expressly calls for a particular kind of relationship with the sisters, and then moves on to expressly call us all to cultivate a deep friendship with one or more of these unspecified sisters, Aimee really is out on the exegetical skinny branches here.